I was originally hoping to be in St Petersburg for my birthday. But considering it took two weeks to get a Russian visa and around a month to travel through Mongolia and Siberia to get there, the timing didn’t quite work. So with my passport in the hands of the Russian embassy in Beijing we took a side trip to Suzhou, Haungshan and Shanghai for the week.
Huangshan or Yellow Mountain is perhaps one of the most iconic mountain ranges in China. Think of any traditional Chinese painting you have seen…stony craggy peaks puncturing through wispy clouds and that’s Huangshan. I was in the Himalayas for my 30th so I thought Huangshan for my 35th was perfect.
We decided to go up and down the mountain in one day. Completely feasible…but also very painful for my legs the following day, and the next day, and the one after that!
Most people took the cable car up, which took seven minutes to reach the top. For us and many other foolhardy climbers, it was a three-hour ascent, up steep stone steps carved into the rock. It was clear blue-skied day and the view became breathtaking very quickly – literally!
I felt quite well prepared for the hike at least – good sneakers, shorts, hat, sunglasses, water and some snacks in a small backpack. It seems that Chinese people don’t indulge in any special “hiking” outfits. There were men in pants with belts and loafer shoes, woman in mini skirts with stockings and pumps, teenagers in jeans and jumpers (unbelievable to me that one could even consider climbing a mountain in tight jeans – in summer!) and most carried oversized impractical bags or plastic bags stuffed full with two minute noodles and plastic wrapped chicken feet. Their amateur approach was good for my morale. If they could make it – then so could I!
The hiking didn’t end once we reached the top. That’s when it kind of started. There were many lookout points – all to be accessed by seemingly endless paths of steps going up, down and up again. As I knew I was somewhere special and it was very beautiful – I tried to be in the moment. But the irony is that hiking up you can’t wait to get to the top and then before you know it you are hiking down and you can’t wait to get to the bottom!
Talking of being in the moment, hiking China’s most famous mountain is not an experience that could be described as serene, peaceful or a time for quiet reflection. Noisy, chaotic and sometimes dangerous is probably a more apt description. The mountaintop area was a deluge of hundreds and hundreds domestic tourists, smoking, eating, shouting and jostling for the best view or photo. They travelled in large groups led by flag-waving, microphone-wearing guides. The vistas of Haungshan will always be remembered with the soundtrack of a cacophony of Chinese-speaking guides rounding up their troupes.
But peaceful or not, it was a site to be seen and an experience to be remembered. In fact seeing the sharp peaks of Haungshan dotted with hundreds or possibly thousands of humans was quite extraordinary. Yellow Mountain has been a famed destination for many centuries and it seems its appeal remains.
I am just glad it wasn’t the weekend!